Tennis is back on the Dreamcast with Sega Sports Tennis 2K2. - by Josh Hiscock
The gaming industry can be incredibly weird at times, but we didn't need to tell you that. Games
that are widely predicted to be the best thing to hit Planet Earth since the Messiah (or
something like that). Point in case: Daikatana. We don't need to tell you that the delays
not only didn't justify the end result, but the end result left people wishing it still WERE
delayed. Other games take the world seemingly by storm, rising from relative obscurity to become
a favorite of the masses.
Who could have predicted, for example, that Virtua Tennis would turn out to be one of the
best multiplayer games on the Dreamcast? Part of the attraction, to be certain, was the act that
the graphics were incredibly lifelike -- so lifelike, in fact, that observers have, on occasion,
mistaken it for a real match on television. Part of the appeal was also in how remarkably easy
it was to learn the game. Five year old children have a fairly simple time playing, although the
old adage about '5 minutes to learn, a lifetime to master' certainly has some relevancy here,
albeit not quite as harshly. Real-life tennis players such as Jim Courier certainly didn't hurt
Still, that's not to say it was a perfect game -- one of the most oft-mentioned faults was the
inability to play more than a single set, even on the World Circuit. While it's certainly a
noble sentiment to try and keep a game from boring its audience to tears with excessive length,
many lamented the lack of an option setting to, say, choose the number of sets per match.
Also clearly missing was the presence of female tennis players. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not
trying to make any kind of a "little girls need role models too!" political statement here. I
would be remiss, however, not to mention the unavoidable fact that the women's game plays
differently from the men's game. They play a shorter game, for one (fewer sets per match),
and forehand smashes and serves tend not to be quite as hard and fast, in general. Where the
men's game may see more rockets, the women's game relies slightly more heavily on the strategy
aspect of the sport.
Female players are in Tennis 2K2!
Ouch, that's a hard surface.
Tennis 2k2, as the sequel has been christened, appears poised to take the best elements
from Virtua Tennis and combine them with at least some of what was missing to create what
should be an even better tennis experience this year. Once again, sixteen tennis players make the
cut, although it's important to keep in mind that half of them are male and the other half female
this season. Most of the male players from a year ago make their return, such as Yevgeny
Kafelnikov and Cedric Pioline, although there are a few notable exceptions (Pete Sampras,
for example). On the women's side of the court, several notables will be appearing, including
wunderkind sisters Venus Williams -- the two-time defending U.S. Open champion -- and Serena
Williams, who has yet to achieve the same level of brilliance as her older sister, despite being
a pretty good player in her own right. Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, and Aranxta
Sanchez-Vicario also join a veritable "who's-who" list of female tennis players gracing Visual
Concepts' debut tennis effort.
Some may be disappointed at the absence of their favorite players, but there really isn't any
reason to be -- Visual Concepts has included a create-a-player feature, allowing you to not only
create your favorite tennis pro (or yourself, for that matter), but also to train them and enter
them in various tournaments as you seek the #1 ranking in the world. It should be noted that
while the World Circuit returns, its not immediately clear how that will work in terms of
training. A year ago, for example, the various tests that advanced you through the rankings and
to the various Cups were meant primarily to teach you the game. While that will still almost
certainly be an aspect of the Circuit, given the presence of improvements in how cross-court
shots, drop shots, and diving saves are handled, one is forced to wonder how it will handle
different skill levels by the player.
One possible explanation might be that the player's skill will actually adjust based on how one
handles the various training sessions, much the same way that Tony Hawk's skills increase as
you advance through the various levels in the THPS games. One other way might be to separate
the tournaments from the training, allowing those already familiar with the game to go straight
to the good stuff, while beginners can hit those sessions to bone up on the game.
Mixed doubles matches are looking great.
Clay courts are looking...well, alot like clay.
Graphically, there isn't likely to be much difference here. Unlike World Series Baseball
2k1, Visual Concepts inherited a game that had not only superb graphics, but a stable
gameplay engine upon which to build as well. No "ground-up" efforts were necessary here.
That's not to say there aren't improvements. The detail found in the player's faces have
definitely improved, and the animations have been touched up as well. The player models also
appear much improved, although whether that's due to actual changes in the art, or merely
the presence of the female models to serve as a contrast to their male counterparts remains to
be seen (my vote is a little of both). It also bears noting that Tennis 2k2 will probably
play faster than its predecessor, since speed seems to be a favored feature of the gals and pals
at Visual Concepts. This is likely where the difference between the men's and women's games will
be most evident.
As far as multiplayer gameplay modes go, it appears unlikely that an online multiplayer feature
will find its way into Tennis 2k2, making it probably the sole 2k2 sports game to lack
such a feature. That doesn't mean, however, that multiplayer isn't gettin' an update of any
kind. Quite the opposite. While the singles and doubles modes from a year ago return, Sega has
also included mixed doubles, meaning that a matchup of Venus Williams/Cedric Pioline versus
Serena Williams/Yevgeny Kafelnikov is a matchup likely to take place on Dreamcasts around the
country later this fall. Online play it's not, but it's certainly an intriguing alternative.
Quick reflexes are a must in this fast paced game.
The grass courts are looking better than ever.
Some may also remember that, a year ago, several of the players in the game were locked away in
the form of doubles partners that had to be purchased. It's certainly possible that this will be
the case again this year, allowing Visual Concepts to perhaps include some special doubles
partners that aren't one of the standard 16 players in the game. Could Sampras or Agassi make
an appearance this way? It's anybody's guess, but with the release drawing near, we'll certainly
see in the relatively near future.
On the whole, Tennis 2k2 may not demand the same level of attention that games like
Shenmue II do , but it certainly promises to
be an excellent game in its own right. For all those who remember the good times shared with
friends a year ago, Tennis 2k2 could end up being the last great "party" type game for
the Dreamcast. It's certainly disappointing to watch a premature setting of the sun on perhaps
the greatest two-year run any system has ever had, but it's a comfort to know that at least the
end is heralded not with a whimper, but with a bang.
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